DePinho Was Partially The Faculty’s Fault: The Danger of Conformity and Group Think


Leonard Zwelling

Robert Sapolsky’s piece in the Saturday, April 22, 2017 Wall Street Journal, goes a long way toward explaining group behavior that makes no sense. It appears that we humans have a need to fit in and will express wrong opinions that we “know” to be wrong in order to get along with the crowd we find ourselves among.

While the selection of Dr. DePinho almost six years ago now, was clearly a choice by the Board of Regents, the then Chancellor, and especially the then Executive Vice Chancellor, the ability of Dr. DePinho to do so much wrong, to hurt so many faculty, and to damage the finances of MD Anderson so severely had to have been done with the complicity of many to have lasted as long as it did. It took a new Executive Vice Chancellor, a new Chancellor, several new Regents and the loss of half a billion dollars plus the squandering of millions on a ludicrous IS project to finally get DePinho out. Why?

It is my hypothesis that the faculty was far too passive for far too long. There were moments as when one neurosurgeon bravely stated in a public forum that the leadership of MD Anderson saw patients as “ATMs” when I thought there might have been a breakthrough. I even got up in one faculty forum with Dr. Shine questioning the integrity of the new president after his multiple sins of nepotism, self-dealing and conflict of interest. But the applied pressure was neither intense enough nor protracted enough. We all gave up too soon, especially when DePinho went on his firing spree.

My point here is not to cast blame. There is more than enough to go around. Most of it falls on the shoulders of Dr. DePinho, Dr. Chin and the FORDs, the Friends of Ron DePinho, many of whom still have leadership roles and inappropriately high salaries. These enablers need to go the way of those few who did try to stand up to the DePinho juggernaut in its early days and were let go.

Rather I write so that we all can think about the brain chemistry that allows tyrants to gain a foothold and milk it for everything it’s worth. All that it takes, as the saying goes, is for good men to do nothing and many good men and women did not stand up to DePinho and his henchmen. The latter are still around and need not be. And they still spread fear and mistrust through the body of the faculty.

We all want to belong. We all want to fit in. No one likes to stick out in the crowd too very much especially when it is at great risk to the individual, as it clearly was when Dr. DePinho was in charge.

I just urge the faculty to recognize the trend toward group conformity in themselves and join together (or stand alone) to find strength when the next permanent leader of MD Anderson is named and to oppose what he or she does that is wrong and to bring the problem to light while it can still be easily ameliorated.

Loose lips may sink ships, but if you see something, say something.

Group think got us Donald Trump. It enabled Ron DePinho. It simply can dominate our lives no more.

Leonard Zwelling